There’s a debate brewing over who rightfully owns yoga’s soul. The Hindu American Association recently launched a new campaign called "Take Back Yoga", an effort to get yoga’s 15 million regular practitioners to recognize its Hindu roots.
"In a way," said Dr. Aseem Shukla, the foundation’s co-founder, to the New York Times, "our issue is that yoga has thrived, but Hinduism has lost control of the brand."
Supporters of the campaign claim that Hinduism has become a victim of "overt intellectual property theft" made possible by generations of Hindu yoga instructors who had offered up the religion’s spiritual wealth at the altar of crass commercialism", according to the Times.
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Organizers of the Take Back Yoga effort point out that the philosophy of yoga was first described in Hinduism’s seminal texts and remains at the core of Hindu teaching. Yet, because the religion has been stereotyped in the West as a polytheistic faith of "castes, cows and curry," they say, most Americans prefer to see yoga as the legacy of a more timeless, spiritual "Indian wisdom."
But the backlash against the effort has been loud and terribly dismissive.
"Nobody owns yoga," Debbie Desmond, a 27-year-old yoga instructor in Williamsburg, told the New York Times. "Yoga is not a religion. It is a way of life, a method of becoming. We were taught that the roots of yoga go back further than Hinduism itself."
Dr. Deepak Chopra, the popular New Age writer has reportedly dismissed the campaign as a "jumble of faulty history and Hindu nationalism."
Meanwhile, Dr. Uma V. Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, said that the debate is an important turning point for a new generation of Indian Americans.
"My generation was too busy establishing itself in business and the professions," she told The Times. "Now, the second and third generation is looking around and finding its voice, saying, ‘Our civilization has made contributions to the world, and these should be acknowledged.’ "